Card games show what my kids are made of

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This past Shabbat was a special one. The day dawned typically foggy and cool. The boys poured themselves bowls of cereal and milk for breakfast, and my daughter snuggled deeper into her blanket on the couch. Four pairs of eyes were glued to the DVRed episode of “Modern Family” in the family room.

A regular Saturday morning.

I reminded them all to put their dishes in the sink and get dressed and ready.

“OK, Mom,” one of them mumbled. By now they were all on the couch in a cozy pack. Nobody moved. I sighed as I made my way upstairs.

There was no indication that this was going to be anything other than a typical Saturday: We would spend some time together, but mostly the kids would do their thing and I would do mine. After a full week of interconnecting during carpools, meals, appointments and homework, the way in which we engage with our own selves for a while on the weekend is welcome. It’s like parallel play.

How differently I would feel at the end of that special Shabbat.

After more reminders to get dressed, brush their teeth, put on their shoes and get moving, we managed to arrive at Shabbat services on time, followed by a delicious and welcoming lunch at the home of our rabbi, his wife and adorable baby girl.

Our family does not keep Shabbat. But we spend plenty of time with families that do, and the increasingly long days of summer feel even longer for teens and tweens who are not allowed access to electronics on this holy day of rest.

I felt a twinge of concern as we walked over to the rabbi’s house after services. The sun had yet to break through that swirling mist, and even with my frequent, nagging reminders, my boys had forgotten their jackets. They wouldn’t want to be outside in this weather. What would they do all afternoon while we grown-ups engaged in adult conversation?

It seemed the rabbi’s lovely wife was thinking the same thing. With a house full of toys and games for younger kids, she quickly told my older ones she had books, a ball and numerous decks of cards for their entertainment.

I have never seen my kids play cards. As a young girl, I spent many an afternoon playing Solitaire and a version of Rummy with my sister, but that was long before all-day TV, Minecraft and Instagram. I watched my son pull the deck out of the pack and sheepishly realized I’ve never taught them to play a single card game.

“Mom, you wanna play Spit?” He was already dealing the cards in front of him with something like skill and confidence.

“Spit? How do you play?” It sounded horrible, and none too excitedly, I hauled myself up from the couch and down to the carpet opposite him. I really didn’t want to. I wanted to relax on the couch, watch the kids play, talk to my husband and friends. You know, parallel play.

He quickly explained the rules of a game I vaguely remembered playing 30 years ago (was it always called Spit?), and soon we were laughing and yelling, trying to outsmart each other and plotting our moves with lightning speed.

The other kids wanted to play, too, and a “You Play the Winner” contest followed for the rest of the afternoon. By then I had joined the adults at the table. I glimpsed a glimmer of wistful longing in one or two of their faces when we occasionally turned to watch the action.

Here’s what I learned that day at the rabbi’s house:

Even though there’s an awful lot of screen time in our house (and I’m OK with it), my kids actually do know how to play good old-fashioned card games.

Playing cards with my kids is fun. They are witty and love to joke around, and all of them are pretty competitive in a spirited, good-natured way. They also have great strategic skills.

They are good teachers. This was surprising. They displayed a gentle patience that definitely does not come from me.

I learned that doing my own thing is great, and often necessary, to recharge my energy and refocus my thoughts.

And that playing with my kids fills my soul.


Nicki Gilbert

Nicki Gilbert is a writer, Alcatraz swimmer and country music lover who lives in Piedmont with her husband, four kids and dachshund puppy. Her blog is